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While driving a car is a unique freedom that most teens are excited to experience, it’s worth noting that many young drivers are not fully prepared for the risks and responsibilities they face when getting behind the wheel. We don’t want to frighten you, but motor vehicle crashes remain the number one cause of death for teens. Teen drivers (ages 16 to 19) are involved in fatal crashes at four times the rate of adult drivers (ages 25 to 69). In 2011, 58 percent of teen drivers killed in crashes were not wearing a seat belt and 50 percent of passengers killed in crashes were not buckled up. Dire facts about teen drivers go beyond drinking while behind the wheel. Talking or texting on a cell phone while driving and talking with peer passengers are deadly distractions. However, critical driver errors due to inexperience also contribute significantly to crashes. This is why we hope you will read these paragraphs carefully and always consider ways you and your friends can reduce risky driving conditions in your first several years as a licensed driver.

Most teen crashes are caused by three critical driving errors due to inexperience: lack of scanning to detect and respond to hazards, driving too fast for road conditions, and being distracted by something inside or outside the vehicle. These distractions may be the result of talking on the phone or texting while driving. In fact, research has found that a teen-aged driver has the reaction time of a 70-year-old when distracted while driving and crash risk is four times higher when a driver uses a cell phone. This is true whether the device is hands free or not. In many states, including Georgia, texting while driving is against the law. Avoiding this hazard and following the law is as simple as completing your phone call before you get in the car, allowing text messages to wait until you’ve parked the car or taking a stand and encouraging your friends not to text while driving. These simple risk prevention behaviors can save lives of passengers, drivers and strangers you encounter on the roads.

Speeding is another major factor in teen crash fatalities. Speeding increases the stopping distance required to avoid a collision even as it reduces the amount of time a driver needs to avoid a collision. It also increases the likelihood that the crash will result in injury. For example, teens driving 40 mph in a 30 mph zone may think they’re “only” going 10 mph over the posted speed limit. But that “small” increase in speed translates to a 78 percent increase in collision energy – that’s nearly double. This is a significant increase when we consider driving on a curvy road in wet conditions or when driving through a residential area where children are playing.

Substance abuse is risky behavior for teens, and is especially dangerous when paired with driving. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tells us that in 2008, 25% of drivers ages 15 to 20 killed in car crashes were legally intoxicated. If you have a friend who is intoxicated or has been using drugs or alcohol, please don’t allow them to drive. Learn more about what you can do to prevent drinking at driving through SADD (Students Against Drunk Driving).

While talking or texting on a cell phone are well-documented driving distractions, one of the most dangerous hazards a teen driver faces is often overlooked—peer passengers. Two or more peer passengers more than triples the risk of a fatal crash when a teen is behind the wheel. Research also found that teen drivers with peer passengers were more likely to be distracted just before a serious crash than teens driving alone. Among the teens who said they were distracted by something inside the vehicle before crashing, 71 percent of males and 47 percent of females said they were distracted directly by the actions of their passengers. Males that drove their friends were almost six times more likely to perform an illegal maneuver and more than twice as likely to drive aggressively just before a crash than when driving solo.

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